On writing

Proust on the art of the novelist.

File:Empress Elisabeth of Austria2.jpgThe idea of a popular art, like that of a patriotic art, if not actually dangerous seemed to me ridiculous.

File:Kaiserin Elisabeth im Efeuschmuck.jpg

Certain people, whose minds are prone to mystery, like to believe that objects retain something of the eyes which have looked at them, that old buildings and pictures appear to us not as they originally were but beneath a perceptible veil woven for them over the centuries by the love and contemplation of millions of admirers. This fantasy, if you transpose it into the domain of what is for each of us his sole reality, the domain of his own sensibility, becomes the truth.

If reality were indeed a sort of waste product of experience, more or less identical for each one of us… no doubt a sort of cinematograph film of these things would be sufficient, and the “style”, the “literature” that departed from the simple data that they provide would https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fd/Benczur-erzsebet.jpg/162px-Benczur-erzsebet.jpgbe superfluous and artificial… If I tried to understand what actually happens at the moment when a thing makes some particular impression upon one… I realised that the exclamations in each case were a long way from the impressions that I had in fact received. So that the essential, the only true book, File:Anton Romako 004.jpgthough in the ordinary sense of the word it does not have to be “invented” by a great writer- for it exists already in each one of us- has to be translated by him.

All our exclamations can only be brought back into conformity with the felt truth from which it has so widely diverged by the abolition of all that we have set most store by, all that in our solitude, in our feverish projects of letters and schemes, has been the substance of our passionate dialogue with ourselves.

Since every impression is double and the one half which is sheathed in the object File:László Erzsébet királyné.jpgis prolonged in ourselves by another half which we alone can know, we speedily find means to neglect this second half, which is the one on which we ought to concentrate, and to pay attention only to the first half which, as it is external and therefore cannot be intimately explored, will occasion us no fatigue.

in that flight to get away from our own life (which we have not the courage to look at)

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Friedrich_August_von_Kaulbach_001.jpgthe public were incapable of understanding what an artist has attempted in a realm of discovery which is outside experience

As for the enjoyment which is derived by a really discerning mind and a truly living heart from a thought beautifully expressed in the writings of a great writer, this is no doubt an entirely wholesome enjoyment, but, precious though the men may be who are truly capable of enjoying this pleasure- and how many of them are there in a generation?- they are nevertheless in the very process reduced to being no more than the full consciousness of another.

the sensitive lover of literature reanimates it and swells it with meaning

File:Empress-Elizabeth by Franz Schrotzberg.jpgan art that is so simple as life, without beauty, a mere vain and tedious duplication of what our eyes see and our intellect records, so vain and so tedious that one wonders where the writer who devotes himself to it can have found the joyous and impulsive spark that was capable of setting him in motion and making him advance in his task. The greatness of true art, which M. de Norpois would have called a dilettante’s pastime, lay elsewhere: we have to File:Georg Raab 002.jpgrediscover, to reapprehend, to make ourselves fully aware of that reality, remote from our daily preoccupations, from which we separate ourselves by an ever greater gulf as the conventional knowledge which we substitute for it grows thicker and more impermeable… Real life. life at last laid bare and illuminated, the only lfe which can be said to be really lived- is literature.

Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a8/Kaiserin_Elisabeth_-_Giuseppe_Sogni.jpg/329px-Kaiserin_Elisabeth_-_Giuseppe_Sogni.jpgThis work of the artist, this struggle to discern beneath matter, beneath experience, beneath words. something that is different from them, is a process exactly the reverse of that which, in those everyday lives which we live with our gaze averted from ourselves, is at every moment being accom-
plished by vanity and passion and the intellect, when they smother our true impressions beneath a whole heap of verbal concepts and practical goals which we falsely call life.

giving up one’s belief in the objectivity of what one had oneself elaborated, so that now, instead of soothing oneself for the hundredth time with the words “She was very sweet” one would have to transpose the phrase so that it read, “I experienced pleasure when I kissed her”.

File:Empress Elisabeth of Austria Sept. 2006 001.jpgevery individual who makes us suffer can be attached by us to a divinity of which he or she is a mere fragmentary reflexion, the lowest step in the ascent that leads to it, which, if we turn to contemplate it, immediately gives us joy instead of the pain which we were feeling before- indeed the whole art of living is to make use of the individuals through whom we suffer as a step enabling us to draw nearer to the divine form which they reflect and thus joyously to people our life with divinities.

it is only a clumsy and erroneous form of perception which places everything in the object, when really everything is in the mind

A man born with sensibility but without imagination might, in spite of this deficiency, be able to write admirable novels.

5 thoughts on “On writing

  1. Oh, good grief. I find it hard to believe that a writer can be quite so obscurantist, or quite so dismissive about writing, which is only a form of self expression. Thank you for cheering me up – I don’t need to feel I missed something especially important by having not read Proust….

    Very lovely pictures. She is very beautiful – I experienced pleasure when I saw her… ;-))

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    • I distinguish the narrator-character, twice identified as “Marcel”, from the author Marcel Proust. While he considered putting a great deal of the material of his novel into a book of essays, this is not necessarily what the author thinks: it could be a stage of development of the character.

      And- nothing written is absolutely authoritative.

      Added: On second thoughts, you’re right.

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      • Ah, sweeting. It is so easy to criticise, and a great deal harder to find constructive things to say. Proust makes one really think. But then, so does your writing, which is so delightfully easy to read, and rewarding. That I prefer, any day. xxx

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